Thursday, September 20, 2007


If the first time around is comedy, and the second time tragedy, then what is ...?

It's hard to get back into the rhythm of blogging when one has drifted away. Writing on a regular basis requires not only discipline, but a certain amount of courage -- because one's mistakes in both grammar and logic are put out where everyone can see tehm. Yet sometimes, something happens that makes me willing to forget that I'm not that good of a writer and just post an opinion -- especially when it appears that everyone involved is going at the matter in the wrong way.

The matter I'm thinking of is the ruckus over the Mzoli's Meats nomination for deletion. This is one of those exchanges on Wikipedia that leaves me shaking my head.

Ben Yates spoke up about the nomination, pointing to this post
on WikiEN-l, and tied it to another email in the thread about how the obsession about driving spam from Wikipedia can harm it: marginal articles on worthwhile subjects get flushed from the system before they can be properly reviewed. This is not a bad sentiment: there is a lot of enthusiasm -- often too much -- from some members over fighting spam, vandalism, and giving the troublemakers the bum's rush out. But this story is more complex than what it might appear.

First, there was this question posted to the Wikipedia:Administrators' Noticeboard. Note the identities involved: the question is raised by a veteran Admin who has been around for a while. The Wikipedians who respond are likewise all familiar with the Wikipedia culture. And the advice offered?

And if you look at the version of the article they were discussing, it's not hard to side with them:
Mzoli's Meats is a butcher shop and restuarant located in Guguletu township near Cape Town, South Africa.

It would have been helpful if there had been a sentence or two at the beginning to explain why this particular restaurant was worth an article in an encyclopedia.

Odd that no one there raised the point expressed in the Article for Deletion discussion:
The point isn't that it was Jimbo, the point is that it was someone who knows the rules. They aren't just adding their favorite restaurant to the Wiki, they're adding an article that they're honestly planning to source later. Most of the CSD tags are by editors who don't have such plans. We need to give our trusted editors a chance to source something they've added; otherwise, it becomes a race to see who can type the fastest, the prodder or the sourcer.

Instead, the original discussion appears to be more concerned about whether Jimbo Wales gets a free pass concerning this article, and I detect an implication that he might have made a mistake creating it. Especially when it comes to articles on restaurants, because the burden of proof is greater: far too often, articles on restaurants are little more than advertising, and the vast majority of restaurants are not worthy of inclusion in an encyclopedia.

However, the possibility that Jimbo had simply forgot how important it was to explain the notability of the topic is never explored because another veteran Admin deleted it out of hand. This is the same Admin who returned from a Wikivacation by posting a screed which read, in part:
I don't care what anyone says, the vast majority of administrators are pompous overbearing control freaks. They run around with this attitude that having +sysop is some sort of right, priviledge, or a permission to bully, harras and generally act like a dick, thinking they can get away with it. There IS a cabal, and it makes sneaky back-door decisions such as deletions, vote stacking, blocks, trying to force editors into 3RR, page protections, et cetera almost daily.

Well, his motivation is clear. And I have to respect his following comment in the deletion discussion: "Wasn't Jimbo the one who said we need to stop using {{fact}} and either source it or remove it? As it stands, we've got a non-notable restaurant with almost no sourcing." But why another Admin decided to fight to the death over deleting this article is less clear. Although it was discussed.

Too bad no one thought to discuss why the Admin, the one who had asked about this article back on the Wikipedia:Administrators' Noticeboard, had failed to contribute to the discussion over deleting the article. If I were in that Admin's place, I would have stayed away, too; the argument there soon stopped being about if the article should be deleted, it was about proving someone wrong, and no one was at their best in this argument.

Not even Jimbo, who lashed out with the following: "You can dispute the article on the merits of the notability (though not successfully, I think), but the assumptions of bad faith in this argument are just shocking. Some people should excuse themselves from the project and find a new hobby." Writing this, he failed to acknowledge that many Wikipedians honestly believe that there are groups of people with more influence than others, and treating this belief with contempt does not make it go away -- it only drives the frustration underground where it continues to grow. Maybe if he participated more he would see this sickness in Wikipedia -- but if he participated more, it might harm the ecology his careful laissez-faire strategy has created.

So why didn't I enter this discussion, and share some of these insights and help still the waters? Part of the reason was that I was busy part of the time this transpired undergoing an Alien Abduction special; but most the reason was that I was busy working on some articles. I had just discovered that through Google Books I could get a hold of a number of older, difficult-to-obtain works on Ethiopia, and was reading them. But the larger part of this larger reason was that I really didn't see any point in being part of this discussion: people were going to yell at each other, accuse each other of untrue motivations, and not try to listen to each other and find common ground.

When Wikipedia -- or any wiki -- works, it is truly a wonderful thing. (One example of this can be seen over at About Us, where they are implimenting a system called Consensus Polling. It's a directed conversation where the intent is to arrive at a conclusion that all members either agree with -- or can live with.) It is wonderful because it can get people to actually talk with -- rather than at -- each other, and leads them to form a consensus. But when it doesn't work, it is no different than pulling together any number of people selected at random, and giving them an acrimonious topic to discuss.

However many people remind us that Wikipedia is not an experiment in Wiki-culture, it is a project to build an encyclopedia. So instead of trying to make the Wiki stuff work, I'll take the easy way out and just work on the writing.


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